The Agnes Martin Charity
Later the Ravensden Town and Poor Estate Charity, then Ravensden Community Trust
Little is known about Agnes Martin but she must have been a women of some substance owning both land and property.
In 1565, seven years into the reign of Elizabeth I, the good Agnes established a charity for the benefit of the needy of the village of Ravensden. The money from the rent of land which she owned (just over 4 acres) was to be spent on bread for the poor of the village to be distributed on St. Anne’s Day (26th July) and St. Thomas’s Day (21st December) each year. At that time the annual income was ‘’fourty shillings’’, to be divided between the two dates.
Those eligible for help must ‘’neither own a cow or a horse, or a house’’. Originally the loaves for December could be collected from the church on the Sunday after St. Thomas’s Day and these soon got to be known as ‘’Tommy’s Loaves’’ or ‘’Tommy’s Bread.’’
In 1631 other local worthies, including the Duke of Bedford augmented the charity by adding funds or land and by 1633 a cottage had also been purchased and the rent from this was added to the annual income.
In 1822 the Duke, the then Vicar and six wealthy parishioners reconstituted the Charity, in future to be known as the Ravensden Town and Poor Estate Charity and adding to it further small parcels of land and another cottage that had been acquired. The estate now consisted of land and three charity or alms cottages for the poor or homeless of the village. Any additional income from rent was to be used ‘’to support the Sunday School, to provide medicines for the sick or destitute and also an allowance of coal to every poor family in the village just before Christmas.’’ The cottages were located on the south side of Church End between Church Cottage, on the corner of Vicarage Close and April Cottage. The site is now occupied by four new bungalows.
Under another revised Scheme of Regulation prepared by the trustees in 1897 it was agreed that one-third of the annual income should be set aside for educational purposes and two-thirds for the general benefit of the poor. The Chairman was to be Francis Aspinall Wythes of Ravensden House.
From the date of this new scheme precise information is retained in the Bedfordshire Archives regarding the distribution of bread and coal and small monetary grants made to villagers.
In 1897 one large loaf and one small one were handed to 69 families and one extra large one for those with more than one child. (How these families were expected to survive between the two bread distributions each year might be a legitimate question !)
In 1912, 64 families received bread, and the coal allowance was a hundredweight and a half per family. Small monetary grants were also made to two widows and three other needy persons.
Elderly people born in the village can still recall that, on the last school day before Christmas, mothers gave their eldest child a bag or a pillowcase to take to school and that at noon as the pupils left for the holiday, a representative of the Charity would be present at the school gates with the loaves and the ‘’breadlist.’’
It is thought that this bread distribution did not actually cease until 1936 on the decision of the then Trustees headed by the Chairman Mr. Benjamin Jefferies, and from that time relief was provided purely by the issue of coal and subsequently grants of money.
In the late 1950’s the three charity cottages were finally sold off, and the proceeds of the sale added to the assets of the Charity.
The Ravensden Town and Poor Estate Charity continued until 2013 mainly making an educational grant to the school and other small amounts of money to elderly residents in July and December in accordance with the terms of the original endowment.
In 2013 the Constitution was again revised and approved by the Charity Commission when it was renamed the Ravensden Community Trust with the objectives ‘’of providing relief for the poor and necessitous persons in the Parish of Ravensden, Bedfordshire’’ and also the continuation of the support of education in the village.
So Agnes Martin may no longer be here but the Charity established by her over 450 years ago has evolved with time and continues, still using rent from some of the originally gifted land, to provide assistance to the poor of the village - just as she originally intended.